October 4, 2015

High Fat Diet During Pregnancy

The recommendations about healthy range for weight gain have been set clearly. Most medical professionals and mothers now know that it is important not to gain too much weight, and not to gain too little weight during pregnancy as both have lots of risks for the mother and child during labor and long after labor.

However, does the “type of food” during pregnancy play a role? To exemplify this point let’s assume that there are 2 mothers. Both consuming a 2000 kcal diet and both stayed within the range during pregnancy. However, the 2000 kcal diet of the moms was completely different. One mom was on a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. The other was on high fat, low carbohydrate diet. Would there be a difference?

Research shows it does. I stumbled across this phenomena about the type of food during pregnancy playing a role in the long term health outcome of the baby during my nutrition and dietetics training. I learned that there are epigenetic changes that occur during pregnancy. In very simple words, what a mom eats during pregnancy can change the genetics of the baby in a way that can affect the baby as an adult. The gene change can sometimes be seen into the second generation (the baby’s babies). Imagine the importance of the pregnant mom’s diet for generations to come. Thus the 1000 days of life project that this website is all about and the developmental origins of diseases hypothesis.

One example is high fat during pregnancy affecting obesity of the offspring. Not when the baby is born, but when the baby is an adult.


One of the factors being studied HEAVILY now on the causes of obesity is the developmental origins of health and diseases that I mentioned. Meaning the mother’s diet.

The research is now showing that even non-obese mothers can have obese children. How? Starting with their diet during pregnancy. If their diet was normal calorie but high fat, then their babies are more likely to be obese. Some studies done on rats aimed to answer our question stated above. If we have 2 mothers who gained normal weight during pregnancy and delivered babies of the same weights. BUT one of the moms had a high fat diet. What difference does that have on the baby?

To answer that, they fed the 2 babies the same exact amounts of food for a period of time, only to be surprised that the baby whose mom was on a high fat diet gained more weight. Even though they were eating the same amount of food.

To test this outstanding theory, some researches went to human moms and took samples to see if the genes of babies born from moms of high fat diets were different than the genes of babies born to normal fat diets. What did they find? They found that they some were absolutely different. The difference they saw between the offspring, they were able to follow-up for 9 years! And what did they find after 9 years? That the babies born to moms who were having a high fat diet were heavier than babies born to moms on normal diet. Genes as well! Isn’t that remarkable?

Some research wanted to get down to the bottom of it. Why are these babies fatter? What is happening with the genes? What genes are involved? One of the researches found that the change of genes is targeting the dopamine and opiod systems. Or the systems that target “satisfaction and happiness”. They found that children of mothers who were on a fat diet PREFERRED foods high in sugar and fat much more than the other children.

Where does this leave us? Does this mean that fat is the root of all evil? Absolutely not. Fat is necessary and very important for the body. The nutrition guidelines for fat intake during pregnancy is for fat to be 25-30% of the diet. Which is quite good. It’s just the HIGHER fat diet is what becomes an issue for the infant.

It has to be mentioned that the fat should come from healthy sources such as plant-based fats like olive oil,soybean, corn and canola oil. You can choose the least refined or processed if you prefer. Some saturated fats from plant sources also have benefits for the body such as the fats from nuts and avocados. With avoidance of animal saturated fats such as butter, lard, and cream. The recommendations to limiting saturated fats to 10% have not changed and that is after review of ALL proper evidence and research on the topic, and not just one or two. For more about saturated fats and heart diseases please read the American Heart Association statement posted in Jan, 2015. Does this mean to replace the fat with white bread and sugar? Absolutely not.

The ideal diet focuses on fruits and vegetables, complex and whole grain carbohydrates, healthy fats, and healthy proteins. All in moderate amounts with avoidance of trans fats, junk food, red meats, and refined sugars. This type of diet remains the gold standard with no other diet proven to have better advantages.

The higher fat diet is usually accompanied with low carbohydrate diet, which is an issue of its own that we will discuss in a different post.

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Dietary Guidelines 2015 by USDA: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/pdfs/scientific-report-of-the-2015-dietary-guidelines-advisory-committee.pdf

Bruce, K. D., & Cagampang, F. R. (2011). Epigenetic priming of the metabolic syndrome. Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods, 21(4), 353-361.

Godfrey, K. M., Sheppard, A., Gluckman, P. D., Lillycrop, K. A., Burdge, G. C., McLean, C., … & Hanson, M. A. (2011). Epigenetic gene promoter methylation at birth is associated with child’s later adiposity. Diabetes, 60(5), 1528-1534.

Howie, G. J., Sloboda, D. M., Kamal, T., & Vickers, M. H. (2009). Maternal nutritional history predicts obesity in adult offspring independent of postnatal diet. The Journal of physiology, 587(4), 905-915.

Inadera, H. (2013). Developmental origins of obesity and type 2 diabetes: molecular aspects and role of chemicals. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 1-13.

Kjaer et al., 2013, Acta Obstetricia Et Gynecologica Scandinavica. 92(3), 264-271

Vucetic, Z., Kimmel, J., Totoki, K., Hollenbeck, E., & Reyes, T. M. (2010). Maternal high-fat diet alters methylation and gene expression of dopamine and opioid-related genes. Endocrinology, 151(10), 4756-4764. Endocrinology October 1, 2010 vol. 151 no. 10 4756-4764

Youngson, N. A., & Morris, M. J. (2013). What obesity research tells us about epigenetic mechanisms. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 368(1609).   


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